NIH policy change allows unlimited resubmission of grant applications

Today, the National Institutes of Health announced a major change to the R01 grant application process. Before today, a new R01 grant application (A0) that was unsuccessful could be revamped after addressing reviewer’s suggestions and resubmitted (A1). However, if the A1 application was unsuccessful, the next A0 that an applicant submitted had to be substantially different from the failed A1 in order to merit acceptance and review. Essentially, you had two chances to fund a specific line of research. After those two chances, you had to move on.

However, the NIH announced today that they are revising this policy, effective immediately. Now, an unsuccessful A1 application can be revamped and resubmitted as a new A0 application without having to substantially differentiate the new A0 from the failed A1. In other words, you are now allowed to submit unlimited R01 grant applications for a specific scientific topic. The difference now is that A0s and A1s may actually be A2s, A3s or even A8s, even though they won’t be labeled as such.

What will come of this policy is unclear. First, it is expected that scientists with unsuccessful A1s will use the reviewer comments to improve the grant application so that the new A0 is a much stronger application. Thus, the quality of grant applications under review is expected to improve. This may make it difficult for true A0 and A1 applications to be funded as they will compete with grant applications that have been improved through several rounds of review. On the other hand, with unsuccessful A1s that are revamped to be new A0 applications, an applicant will not be able to submit a cover letter explaining any changes to the application. Without being able to highlight changes, the applicant may be adversely affected by a study section’s negative memory of previous applications. Finally, application success rates (number of grants awarded / number of grant applications submitted) will probably continue to decline. In fact, as Dr. Sally Rockey, director of the NIH Office of Extramural Research, said on her blog, “We will not be able to fund any more projects because of the new policy and likely will see some increase in the number of applications.” A declining success rate means more grant applications go unfunded. This is likely bad news for the scientists already struggling to keep labs funded

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